This is the first post in a series reflecting on a recent trip to Rome. Two weeks in Sicily will follow in additional posts. Enjoy!
With early booking and plenty of research with SKYTEAM partners, we used Delta miles to book a KLM flight from San Francisco to Rome via Amsterdam in Business Class.
The KLM experience was delightful. Service was warm and attentive. The food and wine selections were extensive and excellent. The cabin was quiet. The entertainment system extensive with 15 inch screens. The angle flat seats were less than ideal yet quite comfortable overall. Rating:
NOTE: During peak air traffic, many European airports do not have enough arrival or departure gates to accommodate the load. Some flights use tarmac shuttle buses for arrivals and departures. This was the case connecting in Amsterdam and again arriving in Rome.
We love the Hotel Due Torri,
Vicolo del Leonetto, 23, Roma, Itallia. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
It is a small, well run hotel in the center of the old city. We have stayed several times over the years and the location is ideal, walking distance to most of the key sites. (Vatican, Piazza Navona, Campo De Fiori, Pantheon, Spanish Steps.) The rooms are compact to comfortable depending on the floor and exposure. We like the fourth floor with a small balcony that provides a rooftop view of the neighborhood. There is an elevator, albeit tiny (typical of Rome/Italy).
Room rates are moderate and vary with the seasons. Rates include a hearty continental breakfast. The staff speak English and are generous with dining and touring suggestions. The neighborhood is packed with stores, shops and dining options. Overall rating:
Note: The street is very narrow. Some Taxis may not be able to drive the last block to the hotel. This means you may need to carry or roll your luggage over the cobblestone street/sidewalks one block.
Central Rome is loaded with great food options with many close to the hotel. Currently the prices are affordable due to the strong dollar and the less than robust economy in Italy. Here are three of our favorites close to the hotel.
Modern, open kitchen, mozzarella bar, house cured meats, awesome pizza, pasta. Great outdoor dining terrace. Exceptional service. Great wine list. 10% discount for Due Torri guests (three blocks from the hotel). We dined there three times. Loved it! Rating:
La Campana, Vicolo della Campana, 18, 00186 Roma, Italy
Traditional trattoria with 500 year history. Serves traditional classic seasonal Roman dishes. Don’t miss the fried artichokes or zucchini blossoms when they are in season. Huge anti pasta bar. All pastas, fish, roast pork and deserts are excellent. Extensive wine list. Some waiters speak English. It can get crowded at peak times. We eat here every time we are in Rome. Reservations suggested. Rating:
Brassai, Via di Panico, 28 (Via dei Coronari), 00186 Roma, Italy
We fell in love with this little café and bar. It is small, compact, local. Great place for lunch, a break, a drink. We ate there twice. Pasta, pizza, wine are all excellent. House made tiramisu is not to be missed! Rating:
What to see and how to see it!
Central Rome is relatively compact BUT it is also a big sprawling city. That’s why a central hotel is key to your visit. This visit we bought a multiday pass on a hop on, hop off tour bus. (We actually used the bus as our local transportation.) There are several bus companies. We chose the big red bus because it ran most often (every 10-15 minutes). Most routes include all the major sites. Some use alternate routes on Sundays.
Avoid any restaurant with “barkers” trying to draw you in and especially those with menus printed in 6 languages. Good local restaurants do not need such tactics to draw customers.
Also, mind your belongings. Wallets and purses should be securely and safely out of sight.
A must see and popular Piazza in Rome was originally a stadium built in the first century. Today built on the original footprint, the Piazza is a popular gathering spot for locals and visitors alike. Most buildings are of the Baroque architecture. The centerpiece is the Fountain of Four Rivers with an Egyptian obelisk reaching for the sky. Take time to stroll the piazza, people watch, enjoy a café or glass of wine. Rating:
Campo de’ Fiori
Just South of the Piazza Navona is the Campo de’ Fiori which literally means, “field of flowers” as the area was actually a meadow during the Middle Ages. Today it is especially lively on Sundays when it becomes a bustling marketplace. The evenings it becomes one of Rome’s nightlife centers. Rating:
This amazing structure was built by Emperor Hadrian in 126 AD. It is one of the best preserved of all Roman buildings. It was truly an structural marvel of its day and remains so today. The height of the oculus (the opening in the dome) and the diameter of the interior circle are exactly the same, 142 feet (or 43.3 meters). Today it is still the worlds largest unreinforced concrete dome.
The adjacent plaza, fountain with another obelisk is surrounded by shops, cafes, and carriage rides. This is a must see location. See it during the day and again at night. It will feel like two different places. Rating:
Arguably the most recognized monument of Rome, it was the largest Amphitheatre ever built, 80 AD. The adjacent ruins of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are worth the time and energy. This was the center of the universe for centuries. The Arch of Constantine is a magnificent monument built in 312 AD. Plan to spend at least a day here. Be for warned, the entire area is a camera magnet. Be prepared for lots of editing once you get home. Rating:
Built in 1725 to bridge the Piazza di Spagna with the Piazza Trinita dei Monti and church by the same name at the top of the steep slope. There is yet another Egyptian oblelisk crowning the staircase. This is a popular gathering spot for Romans and visitors alike. Sunset views from the top are inspiring. Strolling is an art form here. Across for the Piazza di Spagna is the shopping mecca of the via Condotti and the adjacent streets in most directions. This is the center of fashion and design in Italy. Rating:
This is one of the world’s most amazing venues and collections of art. Set in the Borghese Gardens and the Villa Borghese Pinciana housing 15th to 18th century artworks by Bernini, Caravaggio, Titian, Gian Lorenzo, Rubens and many more.
Reservations are essential. All tickets are timed entries. This really helps keep the flow of visitors to a steady stream which avoids overcrowding. Book online (tosc.it) to save time and frustration. Ticket price is 11 Euro per person. Rating:
Vatican and Museum
Vatican City is its own country! It is also the home of the Pope, the leader of the Catholic world. Visiting the Vatican requires an understanding of the logistics and an understanding of “must see” sights. It is best broken up into multiple in depth visits. It can also be done in one long day. Here’s how.
Buy tickets for the Vatican Museum online (mv.vatican.va). Select a date and time, 16 Euro per person. We suggest pick a 9:00AM time, opening time. We did. We took a cab from our hotel to the museum entrance. (Well worth it, because the museum is all the way around the back of Vatican City. At 8:30 in the morning the line for tickets was almost a mile long.) We hopped out of the cab, went to the front door, zipped through security, scanned our online tickets and in we went. About two minutes.
It is worth downloading the floor plans so you have a sense of what you want to see. The most popular routes are clearly marked. The amount of galleries and volume of articles can be overwhelming so do some homework so you know where you want to spend time. Be prepared to be overwhelmed.
After an hour or two, you will most likely be approaching the Sistine Chapel. It will undoubtedly be crowded. No talking is allowed. No flash is allowed anywhere. Do shift from one side of the room to the other to enjoy all angles of the Michelangelo frescoes.
Important: When you are ready, keep an eye out for the exit to St. Peters. This is a group exit, but can still use it. Exit is located in the far right side corner of the chapel, opposite your entry. If you miss this exit you will most likely have to go a long way around to get back to St. Peters. This exit will get you directly into the Basilica.
Once in St. Peters you will be free to wander most of the church. Some chapels are for prayer only. Explore as much as you are interested. It is truly one of the most amazing buildings in the world.
Once you exit, you will be in St. Peter’s Square. Lots of photo ops. By now, it will be time for a late lunch. We suggest walk to the first bridge on your right and cross over the river. Take your first left over the bridge and then second right and look for Brassai (noted in FOOD above).